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Embroidery scraps and old needles- what to do with them?

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This is an odd one, as we all have embroidery scraps, such as cut bits of thread, knotted thread, fabric, and even old or broken needles. There is always the question of what to do with it. So, what do you do with the waste after you are done with your stitching?

Pin cushion with pins and needles
Read our needle guide

Lets start with needles

So, needles must be changed regularly as they tarnish, bend, break, etc. But we can’t just put them in the bin, as they become prick risks for the bin men and others handling the waste. You can store them in a jar or other container, but they should be put in a sharps box for disposal. This means they are handled carefully with no risk to the bin man. These sharps boxes are incredibly cheap to get on Amazon, and we do not fill one in a year, so for a home sewer, it may take years.

Putting old needle into sharp box
Sharpsafe box for old needles
How do we treat our needles before they are completely gone to be able to use them?

You can hear squeaky sounds during stitching before the needles run to the end of their usability. This is happening due to the reaction of metal and the naturally occurring sweat on your hands. On a needle, you can see the changing of the colours. It becomes tarnished. When you notice this is happening, you can salvage the life of your needles by using a needle sharpener. They usually come in the shape of strawberries. Traditionally, they are filled with emery powder. we prefer pumice powder, an abrasive material ground out of pumice stone, a volcanic rock. It is a polishing material in various industries, from cosmetics and electronics to dentistry. It is gentler than emery and polishes the surface of your needle instead of scratching. So, how do you use the needle cleaner? Run your needle through the strawberry several times until you can see the tarnish slowly disappear. It won’t go away completely, but enough to give you more time to use the needle. 

See our collection of needle sharpeners must have for every embroiderer and textile crafter.

Alternative Goodbye to your needles

The alternative is to save them until February 8 and celebrate Hari-Kuyō, the Japanese Buddhist and Shinto Festival of Broken Needles, celebrated on February 8 in the Kanto region but on December 8 in the Kyoto and Kansai regions. It is celebrated by women in Japan as a memorial to all the sewing needles broken in their service during the past year and as an opportunity to pray for improved skills. It is also called the Needle Mass and Pin Festival. “Hari” means “needle”, and the suffix “-kuyo” means “memorial”, derived from the Sanskrit word pūjā or pūjanā, meaning “to bring offerings”.

Festival of broken needles in Japan - expressing gratitude to old needles and pins
Needleworkers expressing their gratitude to the needles and pins placed in a block of tofu.

Hari-Kuyō began four hundred years ago as a way for housekeepers and professional needleworkers to acknowledge their work over the past years and respect their tools. In the animist traditions, items, such as humans, animals, plants, and objects, are considered to have souls. This festival acknowledged the good given to people by their tools. Practitioners went to Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples to thank their broken needles for their help and service. This is in keeping with the philosophy of “not wasting” or “paying honour to the small things” exemplified in the concept of mottainai.

embroidery scraps

I divide embroidery scraps into two main groups – fabric and thread scraps. We will sort them into smaller groups based on material.

Fabric scraps are bits that are too small to use for anything else. We all own a scrap bag suitable for paper piecing. The bits that are too small we can make into cabbage. We reuse the larger scraps when creating samples for commissions, new kits, or conservation during vacuuming to see how much dirt was collected. 

embroidery scraps divided into groups
Dividing scraps into groups for further re-use

 Thread scraps  I divide into wool, cotton, and my
gold work scraps. The reason is that we can use them differently. My goldwork
wire scraps can be melted and re used for jewellery, etc. My wool
scraps we can use for felting or even reuse them to make scrap socks. The
cotton we again keep, chop up, and use for cabbage. 

How to make fabric or thread cabbage?

Gather the scraps you plan to use and start cutting them with your scissors into small pieces you can use as filler.

We hold onto our waste as we use many materials, from fabrics to thread. We reuse what we can for samples. What cannot be reused as a sample is turned into cabbage and stored safely for further use.

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